Photo credit: Brian Fraser
The below poems appear in Pascale Petit’s new collection Tiger Girl, forthcoming from Bloodaxe in June.
After my father left, my grandmother called me her little mongoose – her Rikki-Tikki-Tavi – clever enough to kill the cobra under her bed, which is where I hid when I was frightened. Long after Father left, I learnt how men trap mongooses in nets, then beat them with clubs, how sometimes they even flay them before they are dead, to sell their fur to dealers. So, when I decided to become a painter, and longed for the finest brushes, I prayed that none of them were mongoose hair. I prayed that even the precocious teenager I would become, desperate to be pretty, wouldn’t need such soft make-up brushes. I wanted to ban the newspapers my father read at the table, the black and white telly that showed us the cruel world. My grandmother kept saying my father was charming, the perfect gentleman, but I want him to stop arriving as he’s been doing all my life, bringing his tales of small mammals and what’s done to them, while he skins me with one glance down my eight-year-old body.
When a cat walks through the sliding doors at first you think it’s just a stray, then see the pointed ears with tufts, ringed tail and legs, and realise it’s a jungle cat. You daren’t blink, breathe even, the air holds your last breath and draws it out while you look and look at the speckled tan coat, the yellow eyes that have not noticed you yet. You sometimes wish you’d stayed like that with the brief visitor, Tala Zone spread before you through the patio doors and the perimeter fence, beyond which the glamour of life unfolds at dream pitch. You sometimes forget to breathe just remembering it, her sniffing the doorframe just as you work out what she is, and maybe this is her tenth life, maybe she’s unravelled the mummy bandages of the afterlife and you are glimpsing yours, lying on this bed while she wanders in bringing the gift of just what it’s like to really feel alive, to have every hair on your body rise to become taut, every nerve alert and quivering. So now, when your image comes to me I see your quiet face that welcomed the wild one of our world, her portrait juxtaposed on yours, every precious inch mirroring the inner core of the forest.